Do we humans have free will?
That is a loaded question to say the least. I read an article the other day about how your unconscious mind makes up a decision milliseconds before you actually consciously make the decision. The conclusion drawn from these experiments have been heavily criticized. In short the researchers wanted a person to press a button when they saw something on the screen in front of them. They found that signals in the persons brain were already deciding when to press the button before the person saw the image on the screen. They then concluded that a person’s sub conscious had already made the decision for the person before they acted it out. Now I have done a horrible job of explain how the experiment was done, but I find their conclusions interesting. Below is the link to the article if you are interested.
I find it interesting that because of this simple experiment of pushing a button that scientists conclude we have no free will. I think this experiment proves almost nothing, other than maybe when it comes to reacting to a command or stimuli a person’s brain is able to react at blinding speed. I think this is similar to what Ray Kurtzweil mentions in his book The Age of Spiritual Machines. He talks about a “neural net” where the bran is able to do miraculous things without the person actually thinking about them. Like when a baseball is hit to you in the outfield. You do not consciously tell your legs to move, then your arm to raise itself, then your hand to close, catching the ball. All these movements are reactionary and happened within milliseconds of the ball being hit in your direction. I am no scientist, but I think this experiment has a lot to do with reaction rather than concluding that we have no free will. The other problem I have with this is that the experiment only focused on movement, pressing the button. They did not do other experiments on making a decision about a real like scenario, like changing jobs, or going for a run, or walking the dog. As I have stated I do not believe that the conclusion that have drawn are proof of anything. As always who cares what I think…..
However, while reading Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, which gave me a headache. Brain briefly talks about free will toward the end of the book. From what I understood because of the way the universe works we do not have free will. In a sense we are at the mercy of the particles that make up our being. To start with he explained it that our view of time is wrong. All moments exist the same regardless if they are in the past, present, or future. So if they all exist the same, then they have already happened or will happen. So your entire life is already laid out before you, you just have to wait for the present to be lived. The analogy he gave was that if time were a long reel of film and there was a giant light that would illuminated each frame showing the present. The past had already been illuminated and the future had not passed over the light. Both the past and the present exist the same one just has not been illuminated by the light.
It kind of makes sense but it is a bizarre concept, that I do not fully understand. The other point he makes in the book is that if this is true that all moments exist, and physicists believe they do, then even though you “choose” to do something you were supposed to do it and it could not have happened any other way. I am not sure how the multiple worlds interpretation works into this view, but that is for another post. In the book he gave the example of if you time traveled back to New York City on December 31st 1999, then you were always going to be there at that specific point in time. So if you were able to look at specific points in time like New York City on December 31st 1999 that is where you will be.
From what I have read, and I mostly agree with Mr. Greene I think that we do not have free will in the true sense of the phrase. If we do not have free will how does that effect the human psyche? It is the ultimate mind !@#$. If you knew you did not have free will, that would obviously change some of your decisions, at least in your mind, but in the end you were always going to make those decisions because you do not have free will.
“Free will is the sensation of making a choice. The sensation is real, but the choice seems illusory. Laws of physics determine the future.”